OpinionJewish & Israeli Holidays

Passover 2020

Reflecting on a brighter future

Amid the devastating coronavirus pandemic, perhaps we can take inspiration from the “fifth cup” of the Passover seder and the miracle of Israel.

An Israeli family conducts a Passover seder on the first night of the Jewish holiday in Tzur Hadassah, near Jerusalem, on April 8, 2020. Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90.
An Israeli family conducts a Passover seder on the first night of the Jewish holiday in Tzur Hadassah, near Jerusalem, on April 8, 2020. Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90.
Gary Schiff
Gary Schiff is a Jerusalem-based resource consultant and guide connecting Israel and the United States.

While the coronavirus pandemic has been devastating for families who have lost loved ones and is challenging us all in many ways, perhaps it can also give us a chance to reflect on the miracle of the “fifth cup” of Passover.

During the Passover Seder Jews drink four cups of wine, corresponding to the four “expressions of redemption” in Exodus 6:6-7: “I will take you out,” “I will deliver you,” “I will redeem you,” “I will acquire you.” But then, in the next verse, there is a fifth “expression of redemption”: “I will bring you to the land.” When the seder rituals were being established by the Talmudic sages, this caused a disagreement as to whether four or five cups of wine should be drunk.

Many consider the cup of Elijah, which we do not drink, to be the fifth cup. However, Maimonides, Moses ben Maimon, of whom our sages say, “From Moses to Moses, there was none greater,” ruled that in addition to the cup of Elijah, a fifth cup may be drunk celebrating the return to the land.

At a time when people are scared and nervous, perhaps it is worthwhile to take a step back and see what Israel has accomplished, where we seem to be headed and how this plague might be helping enhance that miracle.

There’s a joke circulating that Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital might want to expand its postpartum, labor and delivery units, because thanks to the lockdown, come late fall and winter we could see a “coronavirus boom.” In recent years, birth rates have been strong in Israel’s Jewish sector. Last year, Jewish birth rates averaged 3.2 per couple, the highest in the OECD countries, and are trending upwards.

The coronavirus boom will likely be larger on the right, as traditional and religious couples have birth rates that together are more than double the secular birth rate, extrapolating from Pew and other demographic studies. In a non-pandemic year, that means 40,000 to 50,000 more babies born to traditional and religious couples.

Then there’s the coronavirus impact on our enemies and “frenemies.” While the Iranian regime has threatened to wipe us off the map and was actively working towards that goal, it now appears to be the one in danger of disappearing. The regime was in trouble economically before the plague started, and reeling from the death of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. strike in Iraq in January. Now, 17 senior Iranian leaders have succumbed to COVID-19, and Iranians are outraged at the regime over its mishandling of the crisis.

And it isn’t only Iranians who are angry: The Lebanese, too, are furious at Iran, blaming Lebanese Shi’ite terrorist group Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy, for bringing the virus into Lebanon by refusing to stop flights between the two countries.

One can only hope Iran’s leaders get the message.

China is a main purchaser of Iranian oil; i.e., supplier of cash for Iran’s terror operations. But China’s thirst for oil is not quite as robust these days, and so incoming cash to Iran is also diminished. A post-coronavirus world could also be one far less dependent on China, as countries may make policy decisions to protect core industries.

Then there’s the European Union, a huge critic of Israel and supporter of Palestinian causes and the Iranian regime. Invariably some of those funds end up supporting terror against our people. Will the European Union survive this plague intact? The pandemic has been devastating for Europe. Italy, which thought the European Union had its back, found out the hard way that it didn’t. Indeed, the pandemic proved that open borders are a problem, as is a shared currency. When this is over, European nations may want to have their own currencies so they can more effectively weather such crises.

The future of the Israel-hating modern-day tower of Babel; i.e. the Brussels-centered European Union, is in question.

In the United States, the pandemic has been devastating. Some of the hardest-hit areas are Jewish communities which were already a little more nervous than usual from the recent uptick in anti-Semitism. Will any of this cause even a few additional American Jews to reconsider Israel as an option?

The fifth cup, the miracle of Israel, on the other hand, continues to thrive. Was there any long-term forecast that indicated the Sea of Galilee would fill to the point of maybe needing to release water into the Jordan River? We are now less than 30 centimeters from the top of the dam.

But let’s take a step back. Fifty years ago, would anyone have predicted that Israel would be the unchallenged Torah center of the world? Forty years ago, could anyone imagine an Israel in which every major company in the world would locate research and development centers? Thirty years ago, could anyone imagine that Israel would be a major energy exporter?

Then there’s the actual land of Israel. Could anyone imagine that after reforesting the land of Israel and literally saving what was an overgrazed wasteland from washing away, Israel is now planting the plant species of the Bible, the same species that Joshua and the Israelites saw when they entered the land?

The coronavirus pandemic has been devastating beyond words for many and has impacted us all. Yet perhaps it is possible to take a step back this Passover and see the hidden hand of Hashem and find a silver lining, and a reason to drink the fifth cup.

Gary Schiff is a Jerusalem-based natural resource consultant connecting Israel and the United States.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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